Muller elected to Kennett Township board11/15/2023 09:51AM ● By Richard Gaw
Democrat Pat Muller, a long-time member of several Kennett Township commissions, was elected as the township’s newest supervisor on Nov. 7 after defeating Republican Steven Lucas by a vote of 1,787 to 1,179, in an election that earned her more than 60 percent of the vote.
While her election served as another imprint in what amounted to a Blue Wave of Democratic victories throughout the county, Muller said that it sent out an even clearer message throughout the township -- one that touches on issues that mirrored much of her campaign platform.
“What this election says about the people of Kennett Township is that they are looking for an honest, truthful and positive relationship with their elected representatives, and that’s what I promised in my campaign,” she said. “With my background in commercial banking, I promised to use a sharper pencil on expenses. I am ready to do those things, and that message resonated with others.”
Muller, who will be formally sworn in as supervisor in early January and begin a six-year term alongside current board members Richard Leff and Geoffrey Gamble, is the first Democrat elected to the board since the embezzlement scandal of former township manager Lisa Moore, who was convicted in 2021 of stealing more than $3.2 million of the township’s money over a more than 8-year period. To a good portion of township residents, the Moore scandal is a permanent wound for a municipality that is still reeling from the worst period in its history.
In its wake, the township has fulfilled its promise of creating financial accountability by incorporating various accounting policies, but to Muller, tightening the ship of checks and balances is only one victory. The other, she said, will be to become more transparent and use the services of its government to inform – and recognize -- all Kennett Township residents, from those who live in the comforts of extreme wealth to those who are living paycheck to paycheck.
“I think that we need to speak more clearly to people, and I think that message came across in my campaign,” she said. “I was clear about what I think is important and how we need to go forward.”
Muller began her campaign earlier this year by speaking with an often overlooked and under-served demographic in a township generally considered to be among the wealthiest in southern Chester County: Those who are on a fixed income or living from paycheck to paycheck. This demographic – like all others – will be wedged into a financial picture that projects that the township’s operating expenses will be $1.2 million higher in 2024 than this year due to increases in the township’s membership to the Fire & EMS Commission, which will see a 41 percent increase in 2024; a $260,000 one-time cost for the construction of the Magnolia Crossing project; and $143,000 that will be needed to hire two additional staff and appointing a part-time staffer to full-time status in the Public Works Department.
“Emotionally and financially, they are fragile, and when they see inflation take its toll and all of a sudden the cable bill is now $250 and they’re cutting back on services and eating differently, it’s as if they are waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Muller said.
While there are no easy answers in leveling off potential future tax increases on township residents – particularly those who are in the working middle class -- Muller sees a possible solution that may ease the burden: developing collaborations with neighboring municipalities.
“We have to strive to find them, in order to begin to move the dial,” she said. “We’ve been successful through our membership with the Fire & EMS Commission, and who would’ve thought several years ago that we would have that multi-municipal collaboration? We need to keep finding those cooperative agreements where we can all benefit from economies of scale.
“I also believe that we can move forward with other municipalities through better messaging. I think that we have to make better arguments for doing things that make sense and show these municipalities the proof of why they make sense.”
Encourage more affordable housing
According to a recent market report generated by a national mortgage firm, housing prices continue to skyrocket in Kennett Township, rising from a media average of $495,000 in October 2022 to $567,500 in October of this year -- an increase of $72,500. In an effort to create more affordable home opportunities in the township, Muller advocates continuing to create Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) zones in areas that surround Kennett Borough. TND is characterized by a range of housing types, a network of well-connected streets and blocks, humane public spaces and amenities such as stores, schools, and places of worship within walking distance of residences.
Even before she was a member of the Planning Commission, Muller worked with architectural town planner Tom Comitta to create a prototype TND ordinance for the township.
“One of the things we wrote into the proposed code – some of which was adopted in the township’s current TND code – was to allow for affordable housing through density,” Muller said. “My thought was to make the ordinance clear and concise and save the developer money so that you could lower the cost to the developer, and hopefully, the developer would pass that savings along.
“The concerns of affordable housing are no longer just a concern confined to a city. It is now an ‘everyplace’ concern, especially in Chester County. We have to find creative ways of encouraging developers to invest in affordable housing and also invest in our communities.”
Muller sees her role on the Board of Supervisors as a new voice of vision for the township.
‘What is it we’re trying to achieve?’
As she prepares to take her seat on the three-person township board in January, perhaps Muller’s best bargaining chip on her resume coming into the next six years on the board will be her extensive background in the business of Kennett Township, which has included membership in the Planning Commission, the Environmental Advisory Committee and the Land Conservancy Advisory Committee.
“I have gotten to see a version of the township that most people – including the supervisors – have not seen, and I have seen both shortcomings and opportunity,” she said. “I have always viewed myself as a creative voice and a bit of a fixer, and I think what has been missing [on the board] has been a vision that asks, ‘What will the finished product look like? What is it we are trying to achieve?’
“These are questions that are now being asked, and we’re asking them because we have the opportunity to decide who we want to be and what we want Kennett Township to look like. It presents a great opportunity going forward.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].